Eat Your Way Through Rome in JanuaryOf course, we couldn't resist popping into a Pasticceria (Il Roscioni) for something sweet for breakfast. The sweets only served to stir up our appetite and we found ourselves drifting into the pizza place on the corner for a generous rectangular slice. It's a good thing we stopped when we did as the rain started pouring down almost as soon as we sat down to eat. We admired the decor, especially an antique radio sitting among the wine and beer bottles on a mirrored shelf. We finished our Italian food eating spree with a stand-up espresso at a local convenience store and bar. After getting up at 4 am to catch our flight the coffee was much appreciated.
Where to Stay in RomeWe spent our January weekend in Rome at the conveniently located and affordable (less than 60 Euro a night including breakfast) Hotel Montreal. The hotel was situated about a 10 minute walk from the Rome Termini train station. The place had a no-frills but comfortable and homey vibe. I particularly liked a display case of goldfish in the breakfast room. Bellisima!
Shopping Rome in WinterAfter dropping off our bags at the hotel, we wandered some more through out of the way shopping streets. We discovered Mercantomonti, a hipster 'urban market' selling goods ranging from second hand clothes to unique crafts. We also stumbled upon a famous chocolate shop, La Bottega del Cioccolato. I could have stood there all afternoon drinking in the different choices and making a small selection. It was also very close to Valentine's Day so there were definitely more red and heart shaped treats than usual. We decided to pick up a small package of dark chocolate red-foil wrapped hearts to fuel the rest of our day of exploration in Rome.
Papal Basilica of Santa Maria MaggioreWe passed the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and decided to go in and have a look around. The increasing rain helped us make our decision. Inside, we were greeted with an ornate ceiling composed of square recessed tiles. A small stained glass window near the front let in some light. A sunken area near the altar at the front was the Crypt of the Nativity which is believed to house relics of Jesus' crib. Looking up from the Crypt of the Nativity, the columns and arches soared above us. Outside again, we continued our way around the church, admiring it from all sides. We also took a moment to appreciate the finer details of this Roman neighborhood including a small fountain, life-sized statue, and lion peering down from the eaves.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: There are so many amazing destinations to visit in Italy. Looking for ideas of where to go next? Have you considered:
The Roman Forum and ColosseumWe wandered through some back alleys between the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and the more famous Roman tourist attractions (e.g., the Forum and Colosseum). It was a damp and quiet afternoon to be out for a walk. We eventually emerged and the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II stood in the distance. We looked around the various Roman ruins. The Colosseum itself was sadly under construction when we visited but we could see the telltale shape beneath the scaffolding. A lone statue stood guard over a row of leaning pillars. Small cypress trees added atmosphere to the scene. The ruins of the Roman Forum are amazing to see and I kept marveling at how the columns managed to stay standing after all these years. For one particular set of columns, it looked like a stiff wind might knock them over. Good thing they aren't located in Dublin!
Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele IIWe came in for a closer look at Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. The gate was open and we were able to go in and jostle for a good photo position with our fellow tourists. We were visiting Rome in January during the low season but there were still plenty of people around even on a rainy winter day. The Italian flag stood proud flapping in the breeze. We finished our walk in the neighborhood past an obelisk riding atop an elephant who seemed to be pointing us toward the Pantheon.
The PantheonThe Pantheon is a must-see attraction in Rome in winter, particularly when it's raining outside. The inside was particularly impressive and featured a soaring rotunda. The Pantheon was packed given the stormy weather outside. A low buzz permeated the room and quiet would descend periodically as the curators of the facility 'shhh-ed' the group to enforce the rule of silence. We took a counter-clockwise spin around the inside of the Pantheon. A gilded altar took pride of place immediately opposite the entrance. We concluded our tour and went back out into the rain. We took time to look up and admire the soaring columns holding up this hallowed place from antiquity.
Shopping for Umbrellas in Rome in WinterLucky for us, there was an H.Due.O store just steps away from the Pantheon. They sell the only umbrellas that we've found that will hold up to the Dublin wind. We would definitely be putting them to the test in Rome during this winter weekend as well since the rain showed no signs of letting up. Still, we soldiered on.
Sant'Eustachio Il CaffèStopping for a coffee was another great way to escape inside away from the constant downpour we experienced during our weekend city break in Rome in January. I told myself that I needed to look at the bright side - at least it wasn't snowing ;-) We queued up for a caffeine fix at Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè. The long line snaking through the cafe signaled that it must be good! The inside of the cafe was decorated with colorful merchandise and Italian sweet treats. We elbowed our way through the crowd past one of the largest espresso machines I've ever seen. I managed to squeeze into a spot at the counter where I could watch the baristas make my cappuccino. If the hour is right, you also have the option of adding a little something-something to your coffee. Our coffees arrived and were overflowing with foam. We downed our drinks and quickly made way for the next thirsty customers. The energy in Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè was amazing. It's definitely worth a trip to Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè to warm up on a rainy afternoon.
Castel Sant’AngeloWe looked out across the Tiber in Rome. The river was swollen and rushing past us. The water seemed to be almost lapping against the bridge above. Walking along, we spotted Castel Sant'Angelo. We debated for a good few minutes on whether we should spend the 7 EUR to enter. We ultimately decided to go for it (you only live once!) and we're so glad we did. We made our way across the river to the fortress. We noted Saint Peter Basilica and Vatican City in the distance. It was still light out when we entered but our visit was timed quite close to sunset. We paid our admission fee and had a look around. Castel Sant'Angelo features a number of museum exhibits with pieces from antiquity.
It was evident that this place was once a defensive fortress as rows of cannons faced outward and stacks of cannonballs stood at the ready nearby. We looked up at the round walls above us - it was an impressive structure. We circled the structure once, dancing between the raindrops. We eyed the platform above and set our sights on it. We could look down and out at people milling about on the bridge leading over the river. Eventually, the sun set and we were treated to spectacular twinkling views of Vatican City. We also looked out over various other landmarks like the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. Once again, we looked down on the bridge over the Tiber below us. Lights illuminated the far bank. The fortress walls were even more imposing at night. We inspected the fortifications one last time before winding our way through the sloped stone passageway to the exit. We looked back on Castel Sant'Angelo as we crossed the river to return to the cobbled streets of Rome. We passed a number of other ruins and modern day monuments that evening which made our walk extremely atmospheric despite the rain. Now to find something to eat!
Aperitivo Time!Early evening in Italy is a time for a drink, some free food, and some merriment. It's Aperitivo Time! We chanced upon Caffè Parione. We bought ourselves a spritz and were treated to a large platter of nibbles for free. We admired our surroundings which included an antique piano, a heavily worn mirror that almost looked like it contained a face in the tarnish, and a partially dressed mummy...what?! Caricatures of the bartender (owner?) graced the walls. We finished up our snack and, more energized, headed toward Piazza Navona. Once again, the historic buildings made the walk very atmospheric. Now to find a bite for dinner.
Campo di FioriCampo di Fiori in Rome hosts a lovely fresh foods market by day. We arrived just as the market was closing up and the neon lights of evening were beginning to fire up. A number of charming shops line the square. We decided to take a random walk in the vicinity of the square. We spotted burbling fountains, a wheelbarrow full of gourds, and countless cobbled lanes. Church facades peeked out at the end of narrow lanes.
Dinner at Osteria Da FortunataAfter doing a lap or two around Campo di Fiori, we settled on Osteria Da Fortunata for dinner. The restaurant came highly recommended on Yelp and they make their own pasta by hand! It was definitely a carb filled evening as the pasta was served with bread. We followed the pasta with some lemon infused meatballs to get a little protein into the mix. Yum! For dessert, we managed to find enough room in our bulging stomachs to share a tiramisu. The dish was sprinkled with dark chocolate and was absolutely divine. I could have eaten one of these every day! We were in a food coma by the end of the evening. Time to go back to the hotel and sleep it off!
A Visit to Villa BorgheseWe'd heard really good things about Villa Borghese, an art and sculpture museum set in an Italian villa in the heart of Rome. We walked through the gates of the park and wound our way to the villa. It was a significant walk through tree-lined terrain. Unfortunately, photos weren't allowed inside. Various gargoyles guard the entrance. Gardens also surround the property and feature fresh citrus grown in large pots. Italian style green houses add to the atmosphere. Even though it was January when we visited Rome, daffodils were starting to bloom. Statues harking back to antiquity lined the grounds. Impressive fountains added further to the atmosphere. We ended up walking through the park surrounding Villa Borghese to Piazza del Popolo. More jaunty sculptures beckoned to us. We found ourselves at an overlook with sweeping views of the city. Piazza del Popolo, slick with rain, glistened below. We headed down a slippery set of stairs to the piazza below. We paused at the fountain before setting out in search of a dry haven for lunch.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that Sofia Bulgaria also has a rich history tied to the Romans? In fact, the Bulgarian capital pre-dates Rome and was home to the Thracians. Why not spend a weekend discovering things to do in Sofia.